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Experts Urge Better Security to Keep Consumers Safe

[Sunday, January 11th, 2015]

Last year, during the height of the holiday shopping season, millions of consumers were worried when news of a widespread hacking broke. Credit and debit cards of Target customers across the nation were compromised when hackers got access to their personal payment information due to a data breach. In the months following that attack, more followed. Nieman Marcus, Home Depot, Michael’s, Staples, and other retailers all dealt with major data breaches in 2014.

Now, IT experts are warning companies that unless they change their ways, these type of security breaches will continue into 2015 and beyond.

Dr. Barbara Rembiesa, head of the International Association of Information Technology Asset Managers (IAITAM), said in a recent report that companies have not taken sufficient steps to protect consumers from having their payment information and other sensitive personal information stolen.

“The Target debacle triggered an 8 percent increase in spending on ‘IT security’ but did very little to slow down the tide of major data breaches,” said Rembiesa. “The reality is that companies that have taken these steps are treating the symptoms but not the underlying problems.”

Rembiesa recommended companies follow these management principles if they are serious about protecting shoppers:

Know what you have. Companies must know about every computer, gateway, and doorway in their network. Software downloaded on a computer that the company doesn’t know about can trigger a malware attack. For example, at Coca-Cola, an employee stole 55 laptops over a period of six years, gaining access to tens of thousands of Social Security numbers and a treasure trove of other personal data. Coca-Cola was unaware that the laptops were missing.

Know what to do in case of a threat. It’s not important to just identify threats, but to know what to do when you find one. Communications departments must be prepared to deal with threats and disseminate information so that systems can be locked down and threats can be properly addressed. During the Home Depot breach, hackers exploited a patch on Microsoft Windows to steal and sell data from 56 million credit cards. Immediate and effective communication of the threat might have addressed the issue.

Manage IT vendors carefully. Rembiesa said some of 2014’s big data breaches were the result of improper IT vendor management. “It is critical to have IT Asset Managers that are certifiably up to speed on best IT Asset Management practices,” she explained. “In the 2014 data breach deluge, this has been the glaring gap.  Until companies do more to support their IT security operations with proper and effective IT Asset Management, you can expect data breaches to continue largely unabated.”

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